Transitional periods provide life’s greatest lessons.
For practically all of 2012, much of my time has been spent in the air and/or highway attending weddings of childhood and college friends. And through it all, via random conversations with people I’ve known for years and some I haven’t seen or heard from since, suddenly life made a tad bit more sense.
Last Sunday driving back from Virginia Beach following being a groomsman in my seventh wedding this year, art reflected life as it so normally tends to do. Before moving forward, though, let’s clear the air. I wasn’t a groomsman in all seven. The breakdown goes like this: an usher in one, a guest in one, a groomsman in four and a best man in one. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve begun to treat dress rehearsals like Allen Iverson took to practice.
Nevertheless, during the trek home, Nas and Amy Winehouse’s “Cherry Wine” slid into rotation. Since Life Is Good first became available, the duet instantly became the definitive record from what can eventually prove to be one of rap’s best “late career” albums. Hip-Hop’s Here, My Dear, if you will. It wasn’t until this specific trip, however, when the song’s greater meaning and true purpose came full circle. Weddings, and more-so receptions, are platforms that are more like impromptu interviews. The most asked question for anyone not yet married is, “So when’s your big day?”
Any single person gets the question, like some bizarre rite of passage initiation or hazing ritual. My answer is simple.
“Whenever it comes.”
Marriage is one of those events in life increasing in significance the more a person witnesses it happen to those around them. For most people, at least. Multiple conversations this year opened a door while offering a glimpse into one of people’s innermost fears: growing old alone.
“Cherry Wine” massages nerves on so many levels. From Salaam Remi’s coaxing instrumental, Nas’ vulnerable, yet brutally honest lyrics right down to Amy’s eerie, prophetic hook. The ode questions destiny as Amy and Nas contemplate and yearn for the simplest of desires.
Attraction is easy. A connection? Ehh, not so much.
Their on-wax plight was a reminder of conversations with a lady friend and an older couple I’d come across at a wedding reception a few months back.
“I’ll be the first man to admit that a fat ass caught my attention, but never made me faithful. A pretty face got me to commit, but never changed me. It was that funny girl with that beautiful personality, million dollar smile and a heart of gold that left me in tears begging for a second chance. I never viewed women the same after her. She left my heart convinced love is more about chemistry than biology.” – Nas*
A person’s mid-20’s is a traffic jam of commitments. Between balancing a career — or still searching for one — and searching for a passion that a person hopes can create their legacy, there’s also the search for the passion of another person. It’s confusing as hell, really. Big Sean’s “Memories” conundrum, “Are you willing to give up what you love for who your love?” nailed the conundrum.
The lucky people find both. Most find one or the other. Some, well, as Tip once said, life ain’t always a dream. Some find neither.
A friend, two years my senior, spoke at length about her career, where she was in life and family. Everything was in order and exactly where she envisioned five years earlier, sans one critical component. Still young, convincing her life was still evolving and coming into itself, she wasn’t trying to hear the pep talk. She’d heard it all before. By now, she was legitimately concerned. In her words, growing old with no real sense of commitment from someone she was attracted to past a friendship was frightening.
Had it been months earlier, laughing and accusing her of being a prisoner of the moment would have been an initial reaction. She’s 28, attractive, focused and, as far as I know, down to earth to the point where she’s down for wings, beer and Sunday night football just as much as she is being the most beautiful date a black tie gala.
Maturity is humbling. Times change and perspectives do, too, and while I wasn’t in her shoes, her vulnerability was transparent. It’s a innate human desire to want to be loved, despite how much social media or pop culture occasionally dictates otherwise.
As for the older couple, their take on the topic brought back memories of the old dude who told the story of his near-wife at a cookout awhile back. Small talk began around where I attended school, what I was currently doing and, of course, when my wedding date was. They were a cute couple, one who had decades of laughs, arguments and experience to their resumes. After laughing off the last question, the couple left me with one piece of advice before scurrying off to talk with others and later disappear into the night.
You’re born alone. You die alone. The least you could do is enjoy the company of someone else while living.
These were two different vantage points preaching the same gospel. Between these dialogues and “Cherry Wine,” my take on marriage remains the same as it always has. If it comes, it comes. If it doesn’t, then I’ve been blessed in other areas as to where I’d never call my life a failure if it never happened.
The song’s unbridled honesty is soul piercing. Undeniably soul piercing. Representing the never-ending quest by those longing for a soulmate lies the beautiful possibility of being a day away from finding him or her. On the same wavelength, the realistic nightmare of never meeting said person is as paralyzing as its positive counterpart. That’s life, though. That’s life in a nutshell, really. Either we learn to live with the extremes or die slowly each day trying to reserve a formality bigger than our own selfishness.
It took 26 years, witnessing close friends tie the knot, engaging in completely random but revealing conversations and a song featuring a rapper who has been left for dead more times than not and a singer whose personal demons extinguished a sovereign voice from her generation to step back and look at the world from more than a singular, trained view. All that, plus growing a little bit in the process helped.
Some stress over things beyond their control, like finding their own “cherry wine.” Myself, I don’t now, but all it takes is one person to change that. That could be this summer or a decade from now. It’s not really up to me. Realizing life puts us in whatever situation destiny has already mapped is the hardest lesson to accept. Life isn’t perfect. Nor does it rarely go as planned.
But at least, in a way, life is, like Nas said, good.
* – Quote added after publication